Read: John 20:19-31 with your family.
John 20:19 says that on the evening after Jesus was raised, the disciples were locked inside for fear of the Jewish leaders. In some ways, our current Easter season is like that first evening of the resurrection. We’re all in our homes in a statewide lockdown. Many of us are afraid of the virus that lurks outside – afraid of what might happen to us personally or what might happen to our communities as the virus continues to spread.
Jesus is the one who brings peace in the midst of fears. Twice, Jesus says to the disciples, “Peace be with you.” He shows the disciples his wounds, proving that he really has been resurrected. Death could not keep Jesus out. The tomb could not keep him out. Neither locked doors, nor the threats of religious and political leaders, nor the disciples’ own fears could keep Jesus out. No obstacle is too great for the one who has conquered the grave.
Discuss: What do you think Jesus means by “peace”? How would you define peace?
We don’t have space to go through everything the Bible says about peace, but we can see what the Gospel of John says. In John 14:27, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” Then, in John 16:33, Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.” Along with John 20, these passages show us that peace is nothing less than the personal presence of Jesus. It is his peace. It comes from him. In him, we have peace. Thus, when the disciples see the risen Lord, standing in their midst, they rejoice. Where Jesus is, there is peace.
We all want peace, but often, the peace that we want is peace on our terms. We want peace without laying down our lives. We want peace without giving up the things that we hold onto for our security and identity. We want peace without the cross. Ultimately, this means that we want to have peace without having Christ. But that is an impossibility. We will either have Christ (and his peace) or we will have chaos.
So, if we find ourselves lacking peace, then perhaps the question we should be asking ourselves is not, “How do I get peace?” but, “Is Jesus there?” Is Jesus in your marriage? Is he in your finances? Is he in your relationship with your kids? Regardless of what fears are outside, is Jesus in your home?
Now, you might say, “The disciples saw Jesus. But how can he be there for me if I can’t see him or touch him?” The rest of John 20 gives us the answer.
In verse 21, Jesus proclaims peace a second time, but he adds this: “As the Father sent me, even so I am sending you.” Then, he breathes the Holy Spirit onto the disciples. This scene reminds us of how God created Adam by forming him out of dust and breathing the breath of life into his nostrils (Gen. 2:7). Like God, Jesus is making the disciples a new creation. He gives them his Holy Spirit empower them, to make them truly alive, to send them out into the world. The peace of Jesus is not inward facing; it’s a peace that spreads, a peace that sends us out into mission.
This brings us to Thomas, one of the original twelve disciples. At one point, he was ready to die with Jesus. But now, Thomas isn’t even with the disciples. John doesn’t tell us why. Perhaps he had given up. Perhaps he was afraid. In any case, the other disciples find him as soon as they can. They’re like Jesus, the Good Shepherd, going out after the one lost sheep.
Their first attempt at sharing the Gospel doesn’t go so well. Thomas refuses to believe. Perhaps you’ve felt like Thomas before. Perhaps there was a time when you used to be excited about the faith, but now, it seems childish to you. Maybe you lost your faith after a difficult experience. Maybe you’d believe if God offered some empirical proof of his existence. Or, perhaps what you want is a feeling or experience so that you can genuinely claim that you’ve “owned” your faith.
Of course, Thomas eventually gets to see Jesus. However, Jesus doesn’t show up to Thomas right away. He waits until the disciples witness to him first. And when he does come, Thomas isn’t alone. Instead, he’s with the disciples once again. Jesus works through the witnessing of his people.
According to verse 26, Jesus appears to Thomas after eight days. In the Bible, the eighth day is a symbolic day. It is a “new creation” day, since it is the beginning of a new week. Israelite boys were circumcised on the eighth day of their life, suggesting that Israel is a new humanity (Lev. 12:3). Aaron and his sons were consecrated as priests on the eighth day, showing that they are new Adams serving in God’s sanctuary (Lev. 9:1). And of course, Jesus was raised on an eighth day (the first day after the seventh day).
So, when Jesus appears to Thomas, he is about to make him a new creation, just as he made the other disciples a new creation. Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to the disciples the first time. He wasn’t there when Jesus breathed out the Holy Spirit. Does this mean that he lost his chance or that his joy will be lessened? No! Instead, we see that the new life that began on Easter continues to be available even to those who weren’t there.
In fact, Thomas confesses something about Jesus that none of the other disciples say. He cries out, “My Lord and My God!” Though he doubted, Thomas is the first to speak what John has been showing us all along in his Gospel – that Jesus is the Word become flesh, the Word who was with God, the Word who is God (John 1:1).
Now, you might be thinking, “Thomas might have missed the first appearance, but he still got to see Jesus.” He has an advantage. However, look at Jesus’s response to Thomas. “Have you believed because you have seen me?” asks Jesus. Thomas should have believed the disciples the first time. But, in his next words, it’s almost as if Jesus begins speaking to us: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Like most of John’s original readers, we have not seen Jesus with our physical eyes. Like Thomas, we were not there on that first Easter. But we are no more disadvantaged than Thomas was. As we read these words of John’s Gospel, and as we receive these words in faith, what happened to Thomas is also happening for us: Jesus is presenting himself to us. When we receive the Gospel, we are receiving what was also given to Thomas and the rest of the disciples. We are receiving Jesus himself.
Jesus says, blessed are they who do not see and believe. John says he writes to us so that we can believe and have life in the name of Jesus (John 20:31). This means that we can really have what the disciples had, even though we are separated by thousands of years. The presence of Jesus in his Holy Spirit is just as real for us as it was for Thomas, as it was for the other disciples. We, too, have that same peace. We, too, can rejoice. We, too, have the Holy Spirit. We, too, have life in his name. If that’s true, then it means that we are also sent, even as Jesus sent the first disciples. We are called to be witnesses, to tell others, “We have seen the Lord!”
Discuss: John 20:31 shows us that the Word of God is sufficient for belief, and yet so often, we seem to think that it’s not enough. Why do think we do that, and what are some of the things that we use to try to replace or add to God’s Word? How have you seen Jesus in your reading of God’s Word?